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Guitar 001

Before there was ever a website, an operational classroom of guitar lutherie, or a logo, there was only an idea to make a guitar I’d never seen or heard anywhere before. I was after something that I struggled to described: a timeless guitar, nylon string but not strictly classical, big-bodied, voluptuousness that you’d want to curl up with and never let go of. A delight to touch, to see, to hold and to hear. It would be perfect for jazz (especially bossa nova and latino jazz), blues, classical, flamenco, Americana, country, jazz country, and maybe even for styles not yet known. I wanted it to be a piece of art. I wanted it to be the one I’d never let go of. I wanted it to be my Trigger.

I never was able to find that guitar but one day the sky opened up and lit an unmistakable path so I could find that guitar. That was about two years ago almost to this very day. Despite having worked as a carpenter, having learned to and made numerous West African drums called sangban, kenkeni, and dununba, it had never occurred to me to try to learn to build a guitar. I thought lutherie (the art of making stringed instruments) was something you were born into, like people are born into wine-making families, farming families, investment firm families. It was for other people who were not me.

Two years ago I was on a short drive from Athens, GA to Lexington to visit friends I had not seen in over a decade. There was a store in the turn-of-the-century brick downtown of Lexington that had a window display of some of the most interesting guitars I’d ever seen. I was on summer vacation as a public school teacher with money in pocket and always open to getting a cool guitar so I pulled into the parking space in front of that store and went in. The showroom was cool. It was perfectly small, cozy, warm and inviting. It was full of the coolest guitars I’d ever seen. Turns out, dude in the store, a guy my age, was the owner of the store and he made all those guitars himself. They were unique in shape, size, and build. I played a few of them and instantly wanted to drop a lot of money into his cash register.

This is the good part. After a few minutes of playing and chatting, he asked me if I wanted to see his shop. We walked through a curtain door into a room that opened up to three, four, or a thousand times the space that was in the showroom. In a space of one second:

  • I saw a room full of guitar necks in different stages of development.
  • I feasted my eyes on all sort of old-fashioned woodworking tools: hand-planes, chisels, clamps, you name it
  • I saw guitar bodies, sides, tops, backs.
  • I knew I was going to leave teaching and that I was going to make guitars.

Yes, that all happened quickly. Things didn’t start rolling immediately, it took at least two hours for me to get back home to Atlanta, get on Amazon, and buy Guitar Making Tradition and Technology (but I had to be cool and pay triple the price to have the original 1st edition hardback). Then, it took another 5 minutes or so to find a guitar building workshop to attend, one that aligned perfectly with my fall break at school.

But, where to set up shop at home? By the grace of God, I had a full, unfinished basement under my 1200 square foot upstairs living space. Not only was it completely unused space but the basement also has a very clean concrete floor and no moisture problems, at all, which had actually been the tipping point when I decided to buy the house.

I found inspiration in this nook. I wanted to transform it. It would become something special and that would be the kickoff project for the transformation I was about to undergo. I bought a Japanese pull-saw, some framing 2x6s, and found a stash of old wood I’d been hauling from place to place each time I moved for the last 5-10 years. After a couple of days, the nook was something new. I still have not found a perfect use for it, but it has filled many roles.

I quickly decided that I wanted to make the guitar out of an old dresser. These are the first top and back set I ever cut. Not having any luthier tools, what you see in this pick took about 5 hrs of work. I eventually learned what kind of wood you must use to make a decent instrument, so they never made it into a guitar, poor fellas.

The learning curve is quite an elliptically exponential and seemingly never-ending trudge through hard decision$ to make concerning purcha$ing the necessary tool$ and then learning how to use those tools. Millions of videos on how to: use the tools, sharpen the tools, calibrate the tools, fix the tools, but nothing on how to slam the tools on the floor or throw them across the room when they won’t do what you want them to do.

Highlights from the first bend in the learning curve.


Binah

Along the way, I lost a very special friend, soul mate, son, brother, BFF, homie and once in a lifetime sorta pet. I probably might have finished the guitar in 6 months, but the emotional high of becoming a luthier was crushed to bits with the rest of me. Binah will always live inside this guitar. He was there with me through the beginning and all the way up til this moment: As soon as I got to this point, attaching the sides to the top, I put the guitar down and headed out for Thanksgiving. It was the last time I ever saw my little man alive.

There’s no way I can ever tell the story of my first steps into guitar-making without placing this footnote where it belongs. I’ll never forget Binah.


I didn’t have a blog when I finished this guitar, so it never had its own article. Out of all the ones I’ve built so far, it’s definitely the one that deserves it the most. In celebration of two years on this journey, I can think of no better way than to hit the publish button then go grab a spot on the couch with this beauty until it’s bedtime.

Not for sale.

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Build your own guitar with me.

If you’ve ever entertained the idea of buying yourself a “nice guitar,” then let me give you an idea you've most likely never entertained. Come build your own guitar with me. I've searched my entire life for the elusive guitar that pleased my eyes as much as it felt amazing to my hands and fingers. Sadly, I've always found the same thing which is a multitude of manufactured guitars out there, dime-a-dozen, boring, and cost too much. Do you wanna spend a ton of money on some well-known brand name and have a guitar that thousands of others have? No, you want something unique, built for your specific hand size! I’m talking about the very special guitar which you will never get rid of. You just can’t find anything more special than the guitar you’ll build with me using your own hands. 

The instrument I will guide you in building can be a classical guitar of many styles. There are many legendary classical guitar plans we can work from. When you enroll, I will give you the options. You can also choose to build your guitar using any of the designs you like of mine here at Hart's Guitars.
Flyers for the classes.

Skills you will acquire building your guitar:

  • Precision cutting, truing, and squaring of hardwood pieces.
  • Use of hand planes, Japanese pull saws, chisels. and other unique hand tools.
  • How to prep and use the indisputable go-to glue for any serious luthier: Hot-hide glue.
  • Use of precision measuring tools.
  • Use of files and rasps to shape wood.
  • How to use a French curve template to make unique designs in woodworking.
  • Use of metric system units when they’re more appropriate in lutherie tasks.
  • Proper use of clamps to join trued surfaces.
  • Use of bandsaws, drill presses, routers, and other power tools.
  • Proper sanding techniques for the various stages of the woodworking process.
  • How to select wood that will serve to make a structurally sound and beautiful instrument.
  • General physics of how acoustic guitars make sound and the techniques luthiers use to maximize the wood’s potential.
  • Precision setup of the guitar that will make it a joy to play and maintain forever. This includes shaping the guitars nut and saddle to provide the lowest string action possible for your individual playing style. Speaking of…..a guitar’s action is a very subjective area. It describes (in simple terms) how “easy” the guitar is to play to make the sound you desire from your instrument. If a nice expensive guitar from the store is not easy as pie to play, then what is it worth to you? I’ll tell you. N-o-t-h-i-n-g. Save your time from going on a fool’s errand. We will make your perfect guitar for the hands you have. Yes, in seven work days I can teach you how to build a classical guitar or “crossover” guitar (a nylon string guitar not bound by the strict aesthetic orthodoxy of the classical guitar world). This is my specialty.

The guitar building intensive does not include:

  • The course does not include the final finishing your guitar (such as stain, shellac, French Polish). There just simply is not enough time to complete this step. It involves too many variables requiring too much waiting, etc. You will go home with a beautiful guitar with a nice oil rub finish that will be elegant. You may choose to French Polish it, varnish, stain, etc. later at home, at your own pace and leisure.
  • The course does not include a guitar case. Everyone will be building different sized instruments and each person has their own taste in case aesthetics. I will absolutely send you home with your guitar safely and securely packaged for the journey.
  • This is not a business class. I’m happy to share my experiences and setups, my skills and my methods. But this class is NOT about how to run a “successful” business.
  • This is not a “kit” build. We will cut everything ourselves.
  • The course does not include lodging. However, there is an optional add-on of staying at my house with me for an additional $200. This is a whole other level of commitment on my part (extra work) BUT I’ll be happy to provide this service which includes: comfy bed, towels, washcloths, linens, unlimited wi-fi, coffee-and-toast breakfast each morning, endless coffee and tea all day, and complete access to a decent library of lutherie books, magazines, and videos. As an additional bonus: I’m also an avid plant medicine enthusiast with a whole apothecary of herbal material ready to make teas that you need at any given moment. I love to share my knowledge on this topic and to help people feel happy and balanced. If this bit of extra expense is too much of a burden financially and would keep you from coming to build your guitar, I am open to discussing some sort of barter exchange.
My first student ever, Jeffrey, is a hobbyist woodworker and a lifelong guitar player. He was given a spot in the guitar building course from his wife, It was quite a huge surprise Christmas gift!

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Articles about the building experience I’ve had with two different students:

Lutherie-specific skills you will learn during your 7-day guitar building intensive at Hart’s Guitars School of Lutherie:

Making the Neck Pt 1

  • Cut pieces to make neck and heel block
  • Cutting and attaching the headstock
  • True angled edges of headstock and neck top
  • Glue headstock to neck billet
  • Cut and glue heel-block
  • – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – — – – – – – — – – – – – – – – – – — — – – – – —

Neck Pt2

  • Sand and true headstock and heel block in relation to the neck
  • Choose and cut headstock veneer(s)
  • Mark and Drill holes into headstock for tuners 
  • Glue headstock veneer(s)
  • Draw outline and shape of the headstock
  • Rough cut tuning pin channels
  • Mark heel block outlines
  • Cut side slots into the heel block
  • Cut heel-block to its final dimension
  • Rough shape-in of 85% of heel block
  • Plane sides of neck true (from nut to heel block)

Top & back Plates

  • Sand top and back to within 1/16” of final thickness (Soundboard final thickness: +/- .095” BACK final thickness: +/-.090″)
  • Draw shape of guitar and cut soundboard and back leaving 3/16” around perimeter
  • Drill sound hole center
  • Route traditional Spanish rosette channel
  • Cut out sound hole when rosette channel is completely finished
  • Install and glue rosette
  • Sand rosette down to flush with soundboard.

Soundboard bracing

  • Cut braces for soundboard.
  • Sand braces in 30’ arch sanding dish
  • Mark and Glue braces in place
  • Carve/Shape/Scallop bracing
  • Cut and shape tailblock:
  • Glue tailblock to soundboard

Sides: prep and install, Pt.1

  • Cut width of sides to desired thickness for guitar. (Height of the heel block)
  • Thickness sides to +/- .065”
  • Sand insides to final smoothness.

Top and back Bracing 

  • Make cut list and mill pieces to use as braces for guitar’s top (soundboard)
  • Mark the guitars bracing pattern onto the underside of the soundboard.
  • Glue braces into place
  • Carve/Shape/scallop braces
  • REPEAT ENTIRE PROCESS FOR THE BACK’S BRACING

Assembly

  • Route top of headblock to fit guitar’s top
  • Glue soundboard to the headblock of the neck.
  • Measure down from nut and mark the precise scale & location of the guitar’s saddle
  • Glue the guitar’s bridge into its place based on the saddle slot placement & compensation marks.
  • Cut and shape tailblock with a height equal to the width of guitars sides (at the back after taper)
  • Glue tailblock into its place
  • Bend and shape sides to fit the outline of the guitar and place squarely into position 
  • Glue kerfing into place to hold both sides of guitar to final shape
  • Once dry, sand the bottom of guitar in the 30’ sanding disc to its final domed shape
  • Glue on the back of the guitar.
  • Once dry, do a complete flush trimming of guitar’s top and back, then sand all around the perimeter to remove all glue.

BINDING

  • With guitar sides trimmed flush and everything sanded, Measure width & height of binding to be installed.
  • Sketch a plan/rendition of what the routed channel(s) will be in relation to where top and sides meet. Repeat same process for guitar’s back.
  • Route the guitar’s binding channels for top and back. 
  • Clean the channels (remove any debris, fibers, etc)
  • Do any necessary bending of the binding so that it conforms and nests easily into routed channels of the guitar’s shape.
  • Glue guitar’s top binding into place
  • When glue has had time to set, use sharp blades and chisels to remove excess glue.
  • Repeat top for the back of the guitar.
  • Clean up all glue from surfaces before it has time to dry hard.

Fingerboard install

  • Sand run of neck’s surface true across plane where it meets soundboard.
  • Plane and True bottom of fingerboard if necessary.
  • Recheck centerline and mark placement of neck.
  • Install fret markers (if desired)
  • Install frets into slots, clip, and sand flush for slots that will be above soundboard (usually 12th fret and beyond). This will allow frets to be seated properly without the need to hammer surface of fingerboard supported only by soundboard.
  • Glue neck into place.
  • Remove excess glue.
  • Install frets and clip as flush as possible
  • File frets flush to fingerboard.

Prep for setup.

  • Shape headstock if not already done.
  • Do final sanding where necessary.
  • Perform meticulous inspection of everything.
  • Install tuning machines.

Setup. Pt 1

  • Place nut into the nut slot.
  • Use straight edge to mark rough shape-in of nut.
  • Mark center of nut.
  • Mark string placements across the nut
  • File in initial slots at string placement marks

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  • Using straight edge, mark and file/sand height of bridge
  • Rough-in height and shape of guitar’s saddle.
  • Check with straight-edge from fretboard to saddle’s top the string height and make adjustments as necessary.

Setup. Pt 2

  • String up the guitar
  • Adjust height of saddle to meet proper string action @ 12th fret.
  • Make adjustments by checking, shaping saddle, and rechecking height of individual strings at 12th fret.
  • When action of guitar at 12th fret is set, file nut slots to exact depth for proper string action at the Nut. 
  • Play the guitar. Does it feel amazing? If you answer NO or “not sure” make another micro adjustment. Repeat until answer is YES.
  • Consider type of action desired (picking versus finger style, playing style, etc) while making the final micro-adjustments.

Additional details of Guitar Building Intensive

This is not an exhaustive list of all the details, but rather gives a feeling of what your time with me will be like.

Cost of the workshop IS $2350.* The price includes instruction & materials.

*If you would like to choose from the materials I have available at my shop. Here are the options (TOP: sitka spruce, mahogany, Spanish cedar  SIDESmahagonySpanish cedar, padaukcanary woodcurly maple, or maple. BACKmahagony, Padauk, or Spanish cedar. NECK: mahagony or Spanish cedar. Fingerboard: Ebony Macassar, Bolivian Rosewood, Canary Wood, Cocobolo Rosewood, or Padauk. Tuners: Golden Age ClassicalStrings: of your choice, Rosettetraditional Spanish-style of your choice, and Binding to compliment your wood choices).

Ready to reserve a spot?

A deposit of $750 will reserve your spot in the class, balance due on day 1 of the workshop).

Your new instrument will be completed in 7 consecutive full workdays.

Bring a decent journal to take important notes, like a moleskin with dots on the page that helps with sketching illustrations.

What you will have at the end of this workshoP

  • A beautiful guitar you made with your own hands using quality tone woods of your choice, a traditional Spanish-style rosette, with simple complimentary purfling/binding, quality tuning machines, and your favorite strings. The instrument will have a professional grade setup and sanded down to a very nice completion up to 320 grit. I choose to finish my instruments with a Mahoney’s Oil Wax rub. I prefer the non-toxic nature of this. So….If you choose to a more complicated finish, it will have to be on your own time after you return home with your instrument. There just is not enough time in the workshop for these sorts of finishes (staining, French Polish, etc) as they require repetitive steps with lots of time waiting in between those steps.

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My guarantee: If for any reason you are not satisfied, I’ll give you a 50% refund ($1,175), and I’ll keep the guitar. We’re going to spend a lot of hours on this. Time is money no matter where you live. For this reason, I don’t offer full refunds. To qualify for my 50% refund guarantee, you must follow this simple set of expectations:*

  • finish the course
  • do the work as described. I’ll be teaching you the way I build guitars using methods I’ve learned in my own workshops. If you want to take a radically different route from one of my traditional methods, this will forfeit the guarantee.
  • have all major work tasks signed off on, approved by me (the instructor) as an ongoing record instructions were followed throughout the process.
  • take your guitar home and play it for 14 days. If you still do not like the guitar, give it back to me

*when you finish your guitar and put strings on it and play it for the first time, there’s no way you are not going to be absolutely beside yourself with joy!! I don’t ever anticipate having to even go through this with anyone.

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If you’re flying or driving in from far away, you will need to find a place to stay (Air BnB, Hotel, or my favorite, Couchsurfing). If you prefer, you can stay at Hart’s guitars for an additional fee of $250 (this includes a comfy bed, coffee and toast breakfast, wi-fi, all-day endless coffee).

Locals to the Atlanta area (in driving distance) can negotiate a different schedule if unable to attend 7 consecutive days.

This course is an intensive. We will work long days (at least 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.) so do NOT plan to go be a tourist around the Atlanta area. Plan to arrive a few days early or stay a few days after we’re done if you want to explore the city.

*Please explore other guitar making courses to fully understand that $2350 is a very good deal. I am providing a list of such courses below.

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How to reserve a spot

Pick a date that works for you and contact me: 404-971-1007 or hartsguitars@gmail.com. If you e-mail me with a date request, send a text to the phone number to bring it to my attention for immediate response. I get so many robocalls that I don't answer phone calls. Texting me will get a better response time.